Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Him or Her?

One of my commenters to another post remarked that her pet peeve was people who use “they” instead of “him” or “her” in writing.

I agree that it would be lovely if English had a gender-neutral, singular pronoun.  It doesn’t, however; so people try to figure out ways to work around the issue.

Sometimes, especially if one knows the gender of the person referred to, one can use the gender-appropriate word.  However, there are times when using “his or her” is the only way to construct the sentence, and there are times when that is just too darned clunky.

When possible, I use that construction, but I am increasingly drawn — at least in casual writing, like a chat room, or in the fannish communities I hang out in — to using “heesh.”  I first encountered this term in the apa (amateur press association) communities that were the way people in sf fandom communicated before computers.  It’s a simple, fairly elegant work-around, and it’s a term understood by everyone in the community.

In formal communication, however, I still opt for the clunkier but correct construction.  It’s like everything else in life:  There are places where changes are appropriate, and places where they are not.  The art of living with a constantly evolving language is knowing which places are which.

If you are amenable to language changing, what fora do you consider appropriate for enacting those changes?  What fora would you *never* bring changes to?  What changes would you consider good and useful?  What changes do you despise?

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2 thoughts on “Him or Her?

  1. In most informal writing, I’m OK with using “they” or “them” as a singular pronoun when the gender isn’t known. What I’m not OK with is using one of those when the gender IS known. I’ve seen it too often: The subject of an article is a man, but the writer uses “they” to refer to him (or “them” as the writer would have it).

    • Hi Laura! Welcome to my little corner of the web,

      Agreed. It always pulls me out of what I’m reading for a moment, to wonder why the writer couldn’t just say “him” or “her”.

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